The Cove is a documentary film about the cruel dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan. It advocates to stop mass dolphin hunting and educates the public about the increasing hazards of mercury poisoning resulting from the consumption of dolphin meat. It was acclaimed in many countries and won many prestigious awards including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. However, it has also drawn some controversy in Japan due to its dark portrayal of the Japanese fishermen and government officials.
The documentary was directed by Louie Psihoyos, a well-known National geographic photographer. He secretly filmed many scenes using underwater cameras and microphones, camouflaged as rocks. The story follows the quest of Ric O’Barry, a renowned ocean conservationist, to document the ruthless dolphin hunting practices near the Japanese town of Taiji. O’Barry was originally a dolphin trainer who trained the wild dolphins that played the role of “Flipper” in the popular television series. He was deeply moved when one of the sea creatures voluntarily closed its blowhole and died due to suffocation. The incident helped him understand the plight of captured dolphins and inspired him to become a dolphin activist.
The filming of The Cove was never easy. As the dolphin drive hunt takes place in an isolated cove surrounded by “Keep Out” signs and wire fences, it was impossible to capture the event with the consent of the townspeople and Japanese officials. Many attempts to film or view the mass dolphin hunting in the cove were blocked by the local police who treat visitors, especially foreigners, with intimidation, anger and derision. In fact, the film’s crew were shadowed and questioned soon after they arrived in Taiji. However, O’Barry and Psihoyos used advanced cameras and special tactics to shoot the dolphin killings. The hidden cameras were camouflaged so well the filming crew had a difficult time recovering them.
The film sheds light on the fact that about 23,000 porpoises and dolphins are being hunted in Japan, every year. The migrating dolphins are driven into acove where they are captured using nets and killed with knives and spears. The documentary also blamed Japan for allegedly buying the votes of poor countries including Ecuador, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Laos, and Kiribati, in “The International Whaling Commission”. It even has many iconic scenes showing the government’s support to the local whale hunt. In one such scene, O’Barry shows the footage of the dolphin hunt to a Japanese official. The official, clearly unmoved, asks O’Barry how he obtained the footage.
Since its release in 2009, The Cove has inspired thousands of activists to visit Taiji and protest against the dolphin hunts. However, the film immediately came under fire upon its release in Japan. The country’s media and government criticized that the filmmakers exaggerated the hunting procedures which have been an integral part of the nation’s culture for hundreds of years. In 2015, a documentary named “Beyond the Cove”, was released by Keiko Yagi. It tells the story of the dolphin hunt from the fishermen’s side, was released.
Overall, The Cove received international acclaim and won over 25 international film awards. Eminent film critics such as Jeannette Catsoulis and Robert Ebert praised it for its authenticity and the audacity of the filmmakers.
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